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Jewish Agency Votes to Retain Involvement in Absorption Effort

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The Jewish Agency Assembly recommended Wednesday that the agency and the government of Israel begin an “emergency cooperative effort” to expand the absorption of Soviet Jews in Israel.

The assembly also voted to review the proposed transfer of absorption activities from the agency to the government, a proposal that disappointed new immigrants and their advocates.

They had called on the assembly to revoke or suspend the two-year-old transfer agreement, in order to improve the morale of agency absorption workers who feel their jobs may be eliminated any day.

The recommendations on absorption were contained in two of five resolutions adopted by the assembly that address the anticipated influx of an estimated 5,000 to 7,500 Soviet Jewish immigrants this year.

In all, the assembly adopted nearly 20 resolutions on the final day of its four-day annual meeting here.

The resolutions contain the basic policy directives that will guide the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors over the next year.

They also stipulate how the agency will spend the $360 million raised annually in the Diaspora on the agency’s behalf.

The Board of Governors will assess whether the budget allows the assembly’s recommendations to be carried out.

The nearly seven hours of debate were marked by little controversy, despite the apparent disappointment by various delegates that their own proposals on absorption, Jewish education, rural settlement and the structure of the Jewish Agency were either rejected or diluted.

In one hotly argued resolution that eventually passed, the assembly called for a special committee to consider the relationship between the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization, with an eye toward improving the efficiency of the intertwined bodies while increasing the “financial independence” of the WZO.

The relationship issue was played out this week as a quiet battle between leaders of Zionist organizations, which implement WZO educational and outreach programs outside of Israel, and leaders of philanthropic organizations in the Diaspora.

ISSUE OF ACCOUNTABILITY

The philanthropists, representing the United Jewish Appeal, United Israel Appeal, Keren Hayesod and community-based federations, want the WZO to be more accountable for the money they allocate to it.

Zionist organization leaders rejoiced in the resolution, which closely follows one adopted by their own Zionist General Council last week and avoids language that would have given more control to the philanthropists.

“There was a renewed Zionist presence,” said Milton Shapiro, president of the Zionist Organization of America.

“I think the non-Zionist organizations have a new understanding of the impact of the Zionist movement,” he said.

But Esther Leah Ritz, representing the philanthropists, said the Zionist organizations actually want programmatic, not financial independence.

“They are saying, ‘We will decide how the programs should be run in the Diaspora and how the money is to be spent,’ ” said Ritz, who is past president of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation and a member of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors.

“We want to know how it is being used,” she explained.

Among the other resolutions debated and passed by the assembly were:

* A “determination” that the educational priorities in Israeli educational institutions funded by the Jewish Agency are “democratic values, Arab-Jewish tolerance, religious pluralism and mutual respect.”

* A call on the Board of Governors to “devote a higher percentage of its allocated funds to “Jewish education programs in and for the Diaspora than is now the case.”

* A charge to the current Jewish Education Commission of the agency to continue its evaluation of Zionist Jewish education programs and submit its report by June 1, 1990.

* A recommendation that the agency provide its Rural Settlement Department with “sufficient resources” to develop the Galilee, Negev and Arava regions of Israel.

‘WHO IS A JEW’ ISSUE SURFACES

Delegates voted to table a resolution that revisited the controversial “Who Is a Jew” debate of the previous year.

The resolution said that the Interior Ministry, in refusing to register Reform and Conservative converts as Jewish citizens, had imposed “defacto” changes in the Law of Return that were thought to be shelved after the current Israeli unity government was formed.

But the resolution did not survive an impassioned appeal by Mendel Kaplan, chairman of the Board of Governors.

He told the delegates that the Jewish Agency had already worked on behalf of opponents to the proposed “Who Is a Jew” amendment by asking Israeli leaders to remove it from the political agenda.

“You have negated what we have done,” Kaplan scolded the delegates. “Don’t divide the assembly on a point which we successfully resolved last year.”

The assembly drew to a close late Wednesday afternoon with a speech at the Knesset by Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.

The Board of Governors was scheduled to meet Thursday, to begin the long and arduous process of implementing the resolutions worked out over the previous four days.

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